These days I’m fascinated by the various translations. Not too long ago I said that the NRSV was becoming my translation of choice. Four months later and I bought a copy of the TNIV (Today’s New International Version) and have been reading up on it. The TNIV is essentially an updated version of the NIV (New International Version), reflecting updated scholarship and what they call “gender accurate” language (meaning what most people would call “gender inclusive” language).
A couple thoughts on the TNIV and translation in general:
1. The TNIV gets a lot of flack because of it’s gender accurate language. As far as I am aware, the NLT (New Living Translation) has received no such flack, even though it is also a “gender accurate” translation. In fact, most new translations are “gender accurate” to some degree. The concern appears to be what exactly “gender accuracy” is and how much of it should be included. (I read somewhere that the TNIV gets all the attention because of its relationship to the NIV, the longstanding bestseller. This makes sense. I guess.)
2. I like the TNIV so far because it’s familiar (having grown up on the NIV) and yet updated.
3. The TNIV is accepted by the Evangelical Covenant Church (our denomination). It is flatly rejected by the Southern Baptist Convention. (Klyne Snodgrass mentioned at the Midwinter Conference in Chicago that Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Seminary endorsed the Holman Christian Standard Bible, in response to the release o of the TNIV, because he thought the Southern Baptists should have a translation they can control.) In fact, it appears as if Calvinists have the hots for the ESV (English Standard Version) and the hates for the TNIV.
4. I am developing a theory that one’s preference of Bible translation is a reflection of either one’s personality or one’s theological position (or both). Example: Mark Driscoll digs the ESV; Rob Bell loves the TNIV. The ESV is more literal, less readable; the TNIV is less literal and more readable.
5. I’m becoming more and more convinced (well, I think I was already convinced) that objective reading of the text is impossible to come by. It is often said that one should always study scripture with several different translations in hand (assuming one can’t read the original languages). But it occurred to me the other day that chances are that a person will choose the translation among the bunch which suits the objective of study–the more “fitting” translation, the one the person likes more. Simply reading multiple translations will not lead to the best reading of a passage, but the preferred reading.
6. Having said that, reading multiple translations will give a person a broad sense of the possibilities of meaning or intent in a passages. But who is to choose? Is choosing even necessary.
7. I’m also learning that the differences between contemporary English translations are subtle and rarely affect meaning significantly. From what I can tell, it’s mostly about nuance.
8. Based on a YouTube clip of one of his sermons, John MacArthur rejects the TNIV because it allows cultural agenda to unduly influence translation. I wonder what he thinks about the notion that gender-inclusive language (the root issue) is a way of making scripture more accessible to a particular culture. Is all this fuss simply rhetoric? It’s always couched in language about feminist agendas and pandering to culture and changing the meaning of the text. But what about this: modern translations are in current English. Nobody that I know of (other than the King James-only people) has a problem with translating into current English. Since current English is increasingly gender inclusive, doesn’t it follow that new translations should be gender inclusive?
9. Incidentally, “gender inclusive” translations don’t neuter all gender references. What they do is take a passage that says “men” in the original language but which clearly means “men and women” and translate it so.
10. I wonder: if you placed two people who have not read the Bible in a “perspective and context vacuum” (hypothetically speaking) and had one read the ESV and another read the TNIV (for example), would they have conflicting understandings at the end? I doubt it. One would just have a more pleasant reading experience than the other.
11. One might argue that it’s good to wrestle with difficult text, rather than having the text do all the work for you. But does it really make a difference if the difficulty is simply the “type” of English used?
12. Judging by what I see online, angry people prefer more archaic, overly literal translations. I find this off-putting. Conversely, gentler people appear to prefer the more current, inclusive translations. This attracts me. (See #4)
13. As Ian has mentioned a couple of times on this blog, there is no such thing as a literal word-for-word translation.A literal word-for-word translation would be, I suspect, largely unintelligible.
14. I’m curious to know how one gauges which translation is more literal or more accurate than another, when all translations are…translations. And translation is essentially interpretive work. And interpretive work inevitably involves (differences of) opinion, perspective, preference, etc.–interpretation is not an objective process.
15. #14 belies my postmodern scepticism. Scepticism, at least, of there being a largely objective translation of scripture.
16. In spite of my scepticism, I do see that, by and large, it won’t make much difference which translation you use. (See #7 and #10)
17. In conclusion: pick a translation you find readable and read it.